If you go into this expecting campy, on-camera mugging by everyone involved—including familiar TV actors Robert Urich (as the Han Solo-cum-Errol Flynn swashbuckler), Mary Crosby (as the obligatory, bitchy princess), along with John Carradine (!), Angelica Houston (?!), ex-NFL star John Matuzak, and Ron Perlman (Hellboy)—you’ll have fun with this Star Wars rip. Unfortunately, it’s not campy enough—like Mel Brooke’s (later) Spaceballs (1987) campy—and it becomes forgettable after one viewing.
And just what is Robert Urich from TV’s Vegas (also of Alan Rudolph’s 1982 UFO conspiracy romp, Endangered Species), doing here? Well, MGM—yes, the studio that bankrolled the sci-fi game changer, 2001: A Space Odyssey—had Urich under a television contract and, as the rumors go, the studio insisted he be cast in the film.
The Ice Pirates began as The Water Planet, MGM Studios’ serious, $20 million-budgeted entry in the Kessel Run—based on a script by director Stuart Raffill. Then, when MGM found itself immersed in financial troubles, the budget was slashed to $8 million—and Raffill was told “to make it work.” In order to make it work: he decided—with the studio’s blessing—to revamp the script into a comedy. Ugh.
So, instead of “Han Solo” securing clean water for the galaxy, we ended up with TV’s Robert Urich leading a band of 1930’s styled, intergalactic swashbucklers (Ron Perlman, John Matuzak) after the galaxy’s most valued commodity—water—and help Crosby’s bitchy “Princess Leia” along the way.
Occasionally funny—but mostly lost somewhere between the silly and the stupid—with special effects not as a bad as Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash—but lost somewhere in a galaxy far, far away between Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars and Battlestar Galactica—this needed Farrah Fawcett giggling around in her transparent Saturn 3 garb, along with a touch of Dorothy Stratten’s Galaxina space-softcore to make it all work.
Needless to say, the hyperdrive failed on this Kessel Run.
Raffill didn’t fare much better with his next foray into the sci-fi realm. This time, instead of ripping Star Wars, it was E.T. How bad was it? Ronald McDonald shows up, because, well, there were Happy Meals to sell to the kids. In the end: Mac and Me earned Raffill a Golden Raspberry for Worst Director. His next film, Mannequin 2: On the Move (1991), is considered as one of the worst sequels of all time.
However, Stewart directed two of my personal, youthful favorites: 1978’s The Sea Gypsies and the James Brolin-fronted action-comedy, 1981’s High Risk—so Stu is always the tops in my book. You can learn more about Stuart Raffill in the pages of Master of the Shoot ’em Ups. You can read his chapter (pages 36-43) for free on Google Books.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker was released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.